Sitiveni Rabuka, a figure with a history as both a former Prime Minister and the orchestrator of two coups, earning him the moniker “Rambo,” has articulated his intention to seek legal avenues following a controversial incident, as per his statements to AFP. Rabuka emphasized his commitment to ensuring that Fijians retain their democratic right to choose their government, mentioning plans to approach the country’s electoral commission for recourse.

Electoral Contestation in Fiji: Rabuka’s Legal Pursuit

Rabuka, who has urged his followers to maintain peace, is vying to unseat Fiji’s incumbent Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, who has held the position for 16 years following his ascension to power via a 2006 coup. Bainimarama’s tenure, which was solidified through electoral victories in 2014 and 2018, faces a critical test in this election, viewed as a benchmark for the nation’s emerging democracy amidst its history of four coups over 35 years.

The initial vote counts showed Rabuka in the lead, fostering hope among his supporters for a peaceful change of leadership, the first in two decades. However, the electoral process hit a snag when the election supervisor, Mohammed Saneem, announced a pause in result publication due to an “anomaly” identified, leading to a temporary halt and subsequent resumption of result updates, with Bainimarama then leading.

Saneem addressed the issue by pointing out a “mismatch” in vote counts for certain candidates, necessitating a review of the results dissemination mechanism. Despite the controversy and resultant public outcry, he defended the integrity of the electoral process against conspiracy theories.

Rabuka has called for clarity on the situation while advocating for patience and the lawful resolution of disputes.

He emphasized the importance of not getting prematurely carried away with early indications of victory, advising calm, particularly among his supporters.

Electoral Integrity Under Scrutiny

The incident has sparked debate over the electoral process’s credibility, with Pacific analyst Tess Newton Cain highlighting potential implications for public trust in the election and the electoral office’s leadership.

As the counting progresses, the competition remains tight. Bainimarama’s Fiji First party and Rabuka’s People’s Alliance, alongside its coalition partner, the National Federation Party, are closely matched in the vote tally, with the potential for coalition dynamics to influence the outcome.

Bainimarama, who has signalled his readiness to accept the election results, regardless of the outcome, cast his vote in Suva, underlining the election’s broader significance. The results could pivot Fiji’s international alignments, notably regarding its relationship with China, which has strengthened under Bainimarama’s “look north” policy following sanctions from Australia and New Zealand in the wake of his coup.

Rabuka’s potential victory could herald a shift in Fiji’s foreign policy, particularly its ties with Beijing, marking a significant geopolitical development for the region.